On Monitoring, Reporting, and Fact-finding Mechanisms

Published: 
Jul 2012

A simple glance at recent news headlines reveals the growing prevalence of international missions tasked to monitor and report on potential violations of international law.  In the past few months alone, the United Nations (UN) dispatched a team to monitor the ceasefire in Syria, and the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) mandated a commission of inquiry to examine Israeli settlements in the West Bank, extended the mandate of the International Commission of Inquiry on Syria, and mandated a new Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment.  These missions are part of a rapidly growing trend.  The international community — imbued, since the end of the Cold War, with a new sense of responsibility for international legal accountability and civilian protection — has increasingly employed monitoring, reporting, and fact-finding (MRF) mechanisms to collect information on the vulnerabilities of civilian populations and investigate potential violations of international law.

But the recent proliferation of MRF mechanisms has outpaced endeavors of MRF policymakers to reflect on past practice.  As a consequence, MRF actors have struggled — and continue to struggle — with a paucity of sufficient resources and guidance.  This Reflection contemplates how this state of affairs arose, examines the key challenges that result, and ponders possible pathways forward.